She is unstoppable in her tracks. She has broken through many social norms and continues to put up a brave fight for all that’s good in the world.
We are proud to present today’s Zahara Warrior, Bella Khaja (@bellakhaja) (@nimble). She is the Founder of Singapore’s first all women-led Digital Marketing Agency, Nimble. Apart from that, she has an amazing backstory that will leave you bewildered!
Besides her many skills, Bella is also known for her big heart! She’s a big believer in giving back to the community and so much more. Read on to learn about her life on the fast lane.
Zahara: What makes a strong woman?
A strong woman is a woman full of compassion. She practices self care. She loves unconditionally. She looks at adversities as opportunities. She believes in her worth. She is a warrior.
Zahara: Who is a strong woman you look up to?
My amazing mother who raised 5 children. My sister who beat breast cancer. My mother in law who cooks with so much love.
Zahara: Your career has been a very interesting one to watch. From studying Political Science in Singapore’s NUS to your pursuit of cake in The UK and founding Nimble, do you mind sharing with us how you got where you are today? Could you have guessed this 10 years ago?
I was just having a conversation with my dear husband and he asked me the same thing. And I remembered laughing because my 21 year old self would have probably been in disbelief with the amount of change I went through in a span of 10 years. I believe University indeed prepared me to be a better writer and writing has always been something that was innate and a craft that I enjoyed.
Entrepreneurship in young Millennials back then was fairly uncommon and social media was at a very nascent stage. However, I was a huge fan of blogging and 10 years ago, I was writing a lot on Xanga (does anyone remember this?) And the need to have an extra income as a student compelled me to start my very first e-shop selling my clothes on Xanga! So I spent time travelling and would buy clothes from Bangkok and Jakarta to sell it on my Xanga blog. I think that was the very taste of “entrepreneurship” where I understood what indeed was margins and profits. So entrepreneurship has always fascinated me from the get go. Of course, when cake came along, it truly was accidental.
I can be honest and say I definitely did not wake up one day and said, “Alright! I want to be a baker!” I developed the love for cakes after a trip to London that really changed how I saw cupcakes forever. I grew up with a self sufficient mom who baked cakes and sold it to her friends for 10 years. Our home was already a baking studio for my mother who baked and decorated cake to earn an extra income for herself and the family. But my dad had stroke in the 4th year of my University and he passed on suddenly during the week of my graduation. So my mom never felt compelled to continue the cake business and chose to take a break from all the baking she had done. She felt it would never be the same without my dad who had always been her companion through her late nights making cakes.
I was 25 and had a crazy idea of leaving a high flying job in fashion in exchange for a career in flour. I figured since my mom already has the equipment and tools at home, it makes sense to continue the business. So after a work trip from Amsterdam, I came home and told her I am going to leave my job to learn how to make cakes the way I saw them in the UK. She was not having it! I convinced her enough that what little knowledge I had with marketing and branding would help me a lot with the cake business. I told her to trust me and asked for blessings. She looked at me and said, “if you want to learn how to make those cakes…don’t learn from me. Learn from the best.” Indeed I learned from the very best, I went to Le Cordon Bleu to be equipped with the right skills for baking and decorating came absolutely natural because I had an amazing mom who was absolutely talented.
Entrepreneurship is never easy. And what I have learned about starting on your own is that you always have to keep going. And that is the beauty of entrepreneurs. They have a strong sense of grit and an aptitude to want to see things through. They are finishers. The home business was a lucrative one that had a lifespan of 2.5 years before I settled down in London where my husband was based. What I have learned about my journey from high fashion to cakes, was indeed the love to craft stories with marketing. Tech came naturally because
I have always been resourceful and social media at this point though not at its peak, but it was indefinitely a powerful tool to get my word out. A year in London gave me breather to think about what I really wanted to do when I returned to Singapore. I came back with renewed energy and envisioned a business that could help business owners craft better stories with social media. I have never looked back since. Nimble is indeed what I am most proud of. A baby that is still growing and a business I absolutely enjoy.
Zahara: What were some of the most challenging obstacles you faced throughout your career?
Business is a very lonely journey especially as a founder. You work hard everyday for a vision you to hope to achieve. The most challenging obstacle in my career is my race against time. I don’t have the luxury to make that many mistakes so pivoting as I go is key to ensure that my business is successful. I bootstrap when I have to and work in a small office with a very nimble team. The onus is indeed on me to ensure that when we serve, we serve our clients earnestly and do honest work. The rest will fall in place with time.
Zahara: A lot of what you have done is considered rather unconventional especially in the Asian upbringing where parents usually expect their children to become a doctor, or what they call “traditional” jobs. Where do you think you got the ambition and confidence to pursue your dreams?
I don’t come from a family of business owners and it was definitely hard for me whenever we have family gatherings where I had to justify my actions of pursuing my passions that did not fit a certain mould. No one would have guessed that a Political Science graduate would have ended up as a baker, and later a marketer. That image never clicked. But I stopped convincing and focused on the good work that I could do. Focus is definitely key. Everything else is white noise. If you end up making money out of your passions, that’s a bonus. Accept that there is a possibility of failure, so that it teaches you to work harder and give everything you’ve got.
Zahara: What advice would you give to women and girls with an aspiration to do something very passionate to them?
Do it. Do it for yourself. Do it because you know deep down, this is something worth fighting for. Dream big.
Zahara: Who is your support system?
My husband Siraj..don’t think I could ever do this without him. I have a very supportive family who loves me unconditionally. That helps a lot. They are the first to buy anything from you. I am also so thankful for the community of Lady Bosses who continue to inspire me everyday. It makes the work that we do at Nimble worth it.
Zahara: What change would you like to see in this world?
Honestly…more MORE love and compassion for our seniors. I think they are such a forgotten generation. I have a very soft spot for my own grandparents…I treasure every moment I get whenever I am with them. As a society, we should to think about how we can do so much to enrich their lives with whatever little time they may or may not have.
Zahara: Where can we find you to keep up with all your amazing work?
Zahara: Do you have any other dreams you have yet to begin fulfilling?
YES. I honestly would love to do find time to a) learn how to sew dresses and curtains b) if that can’t happen in the pipeline…then to have the time to write a good book.
Zahara: If you could have one super-power what would it be?
Zahara: What should every woman try at least once in her life?
Live in a foreign country.
Zahara: Complete this sentence: A beautiful woman is someone who…. possesses #femtelligence. Fuelled by grace and backed by acute dexterity, I believe all women have a phenomenal ability to combine great leadership and exceptional business acumen- all while juggling a life well lived as mothers, sisters and daughters.That’s a beautiful woman!
Doesn’t Bella’s story make you believe in the strength that you possess? Bella’s story has shown us what determination, passion and most importantly what love and belief in yourself can help you achieve!
This week, we hope to share the stories of these brilliant women in hopes to inspire to love yourself, care for yourself, and inspire you to take a leap towards your secret passions or ambitions.
There is no need for your goals to remain in secret. Go out there and work hard for what you believe will work and true enough with time and effort, you will be able to see the fruits of your labour!
Tune in tomorrow where we will have a special dedication for Zahara Warriors who were nominated by you!
Till next time!
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